Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On wanting.


Oswald Chambers said this wise thing. I posted it on my Instagram feed a couple days ago and it is still churning in my head.

I have kids. I see this concept playing out in real time. My kids' birthdays are next month and they want stuff. Lots of stuff. But on an average day, what they don't really want is to share their hearts with me. They don't want to talk (or listen) about their friendships, their worries, their needs. They don't often think to invite me into their worlds. Oh, maybe when I prod and question, I'll get some information out of them. But it's not given because they are seeking a deeper relationship with me.

Yesterday, when I asked my daughter why she didn't want her dad to chaperone her youth group event like he did last year, she said, "Sometimes I just don't want my parents with me." In contrast, she is very quick to hand us a lengthy birthday gift list.

My kids want what I can give more than they want to be in an intimate, growing relationship with me. But no one is surprised by that, right? They are little children; they don't know what's best for them. They still think birthday stuff will make them happy. They take for grated the amazing people they have in their home loving and taking care of them with incredible generosity.

But this Chambers quote, well, I am not much better off. Let's be honest:

Do I want His blessings more than I desire to know God Himself?

Do I pray for peace or rescue or something He can provide for me more than I pray for understanding of His will and who He is?

Do I want comfort more than I want my character and endurance and faith to grow?

Do I act like I sometimes just don't want my Father with me, but then hand Him a lengthy list of requests?

Yes. Sometimes, absolutely yes.

It gets in the way, this wanting what He gives. But we are used to "getting" from Him because He is incredibly generous. He gives and gives and gives. In fact, He lavishes me with blessings and I don't even mean material ones, though being a suburban resident of America, we have it pretty good.

Beyond that, however, God never stops giving us His spirit, His guidance, His favor, His forgiveness. The list is endless, and so I get used to getting.

And I forget how a relationship works, even though I know better.

A healthy, growing, deepening one is focused on the people themselves, not the benefits. It is two-way. One person doesn't keep taking and taking, even if she is grateful, unless she is an immature child.

It's hard for me to walk out my relationship with God, when, frankly, I can't see Him. When I can't meet Him at Starbucks, or do many of the things I do normally when I work to build relationships in my life. Instead, it takes an amount of discipline to protect time together to talk and work through issues. It is much harder to stop my head from spinning long enough to listen to what He has to say to me. I sometimes forget Him, neglect our relationship and start getting in the habit of wanting what He gives more than I want Him.

But this quote recalibrated me. I truly do want more of Him, not just more FROM him.

I have so much to learn about the Lord. I mean, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of knowing Him. And yet, I forget to press in, to walk with Him and listen to Him without simply wanting what He gives.

What are the basic ways we invest in our most important relationships? Do those things translate into our relationship with God, or do we treat Him differently? Sometimes going back to the basics is a good place to start.

Protecting time together. Being a good listener. Gratefully serving. Those are the things we would do for a best friend. What about with God? And what about learning from our kids? How would we like them to treat us? What would make us feel loved and enjoyed as people, rather than as Santa Clauses?

I'm scrunching up my long list of requests and choosing to invest in my real relationship with my best friend.

He'll meet me, no matter when and where, with a hug and a smile and all kinds of compliments I don't deserve.

And the only thing I have to bring is myself.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A winner and a question

Thank you to all of you who entered the giveaway for the Teacher Appreciation set from Katygirl last week. If you were not the winner, I just saw on her blog (click her name above) that Katy is offering a 25% off coupon code for her shop right now, and she is even giving a print away for FREE with all $10+ purchases!

As for the giveaway here, on Saturday at noon, as promised, I listed out all the names according to the number of entries each person submitted. For instance, if you earned 6 entries, I listed your name 6 times in a row. Then I yelled to my husband in the next room to pick a number between 1 and the total number of names, which I don't recall at the moment. Somewhere in the 20s. He picked 18. And on my list, #18 was Angel Haynes! Congrats, friend! I will be contacting you for the name of the teacher you would like to bless so Katy can personalize your stationery and get it on it's way to you.

And now I have a question for you.

Since Google reader went away, how do you prefer to read blogs these days? Bloglovin'? Feedly? Via Facebook posts? Are there new blog readers I don't even know about? Do you prefer to get posts delivered to your email inbox? I'm just curious because I haven't ever read blogs on anything other than Blogger's provided reader on the Unfolding dashboard. But I don't think that's the norm. (Which is one reason why I removed the Blogger "Follow" box from my sidebar.)

I'm not great at changing with the technological times. I may have been the last person to use dial up, I've had an AOL email account for 12 years, and I still have an iPhone 4. So if you are cooler than I am and know of the latest and greatest ways to interact in the blog world, share the wealth please.  

And enjoy your day! It's raining cats and dogs right now. That means the greatest MT wildflowers are on their way.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter Sunday, MT style

It appears the Easter Sunday rhythm in Montana goes something like this:

1. worship
2. eat
3. hike
4. eat

I'm sure some people follow a different routine. But the folks with whom we spent the holiday rolled like this. We went to church which was great, had quite a feast for brunch (featuring my best Easter idea this year: tropical waffle bar), and then went on a hike. Not a stroll around the block. A serious 2-family plus dogs, takes 30 minutes to get there, wear your hiking boots, hike. Finally, we came home for round two of feasting with ham and deviled eggs and lemon bars.

I've never gone on a hike on Easter Sunday, had a full on wardrobe change, mid-day, for some outdoor adventuring. By two o'clock I was hauling off the silk dress and necklace, and pulling over layers of knit and a beanie, since Spring is slow to find us up here.

This Easter schedule was new to me. And it was awesome.

Naturally, I didn't think to take any photos of us while we were doing normal Easter things, like dressing in pastels and going to church and eating our delicious brunch with our neighbor pals (the ones who got us to hike on Easter).

I only thought to take photos of the completely novel things. Like seeing the bison. Did you see any on Easter? What about a bald eagle? Did your dog frolic in the river? Did your kids take their bows and tromp through the wilderness looking for something to shoot? Did your husband wear a fleece vest? (I sometimes tease him for his fleece vest. It's funny to me. I don't know. If you're so cold, then why aren't there any arms?) I have proof that we did all of the above. Only the bald eagle eluded my camera.

Here are the visuals for you. Only one of these photos feels familiar to me, in terms of Easter festivities. I'll let you guess which one. But I will say that I like this, the unfamiliar rhythm of things in Montana. And I really like the friends God has brought into our lives this past year. I more than like them. I'm incredibly blessed by them and the ways they gently expand my horizons and loosen my expectations. Hey, if you need a little of that too, head on up this way. The bison will be waiting. 


This was our first Easter in Montana. I missed our extended family and traditions we've done for years, I missed the competitive grown-up egg hunt, my brother, and all the fancy foods we'd make. The kids missed their cousins, we missed our nephew's birthday, and we longed for hugs from each and every loved one too far away.

But I wore my "give me Jesus" necklace and mustered up the will to embrace the change.

It was our first Easter here. And I have to say, still, by the grace of God, it was a very good day.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Grace on a Thursday: Hashing out Passover

For years, I've wanted to be a part of a Passover Seder somehow. We used to go to a church that hosted one annually, but we never went. Then, I knew a Jewish family who hosted this special meal in their home every Passover; I secretly wished to be invited over, but it never happened. The Jewish feasts have always been so interesting to me, yet elusive. I have heard of people reading books that walked one through the feasts, but have never researched or had a book title or knew where to begin in celebrating with my own family.

Then, last Sunday, our pastor taught on the first Passover, the final plague on Egypt after which Pharaoh would let the Israelites go. Let me recap the story briefly. Over 2 million Israelites were harshly enslaved in Egypt. Moses was called by God to free and lead the people in a mass 'exodus' into the Promised Land, but Pharaoh was not going down without a fight. (Imagine the economic collapse a country might go into if it lost a workforce of 2 million people literally overnight!) After God sent nine awful, disciplinary plagues on the Egyptians, He told Moses that this final one would be the last straw: He would take the life of every firstborn of every household in the land.

The only way the Hebrew families would remain untouched was if a family had obediently swathed the doorposts with the blood of an unblemished lamb. Then, the angel of death would 'pass over' the household, sparing the life of the firstborn. The blood covered the family from the curse of death. And then, forever more, the Jews were commanded to remember this deliverance and celebrate Passover annually, teaching their children about God's faithfulness and grace. So much grace.

Our pastor read from the Old Testament, where God said the Jews were to roast the lamb meat, and eat it with bitter herbs (or salad greens) and unleavened bread. Because the Jews would very soon be freed, they would be in a rush to escape. In fact, Pharaoh would drive them out in his grief, and there would be no time to bake bread that needed to rise. In addition, God said to eat the meal with one's shoes on, and with one's walking stick in hand for the same reason. This meal was specifically "to be eaten in haste."

It's all so interesting. There aren't many instances in the Bible when God tells us to rush. We take notice when He does. Hurry to your freedom, He says. When I say go, you flee from captivity. This is not a meal to be eaten joyfully over three hours. It is to be taken solemnly and quickly and with grave remembrance, because something had to die first. Remember, there is blood at the door.   

Suddenly Passover seems not a thing to be "celebrated" as much as it is to be memorialized. And last Sunday, I decided remaining on the fringes of this holiday was not necessary; there was no reason I couldn't hash out a symbolic Passover meal in 24 hours for us to enjoy the next night. Heck, the Jews didn't have The Food Network and the internet and 3 easily accessible supermarkets like I did, and they had no trouble working it out.

The Scripture we read on Sunday listed three food items in the Passover meal: lamb, bitter salad greens, and flatbread. Easy. Well, minus the lamb part, which I had never cooked. But in a matter of minutes online, I found a simple recipe for roasting lamb. I went to two stores to find it, but when I did, it was on sale. Win. And finding the other two items was simple as well. I bought a bag of arugula, a bitter and spicy green which I love, and a box of Matzo bread. Crackers. I don't know what the proper term is. (However, when I got home, I noticed the box specifically says "Not for Passover." What? Why not? I don't understand.)

To be honest, I hesitated sharing this experience online. I was a bit afraid I might offend someone who knew the "proper" way to do Passover. I'm hoping for grace in this area, since I should be better versed on the holiday but am not, yet. On the other hand, I wondered if there were more people out there who have been interested in participating in the tradition, but felt overwhelmed or sort of uninvited, like I did.

Well, it boils down to this. My decision to hash out my own Passover and my decision to share it here were both rooted in this belief: God just wants us to remember and share His story. I believe He doesn't care as much about the details as He does about our hearts. Are we remembering that our freedom comes at a high price? Are we remembering there is blood on the door, the blood of the Lamb of God that covers us from the curse of death? And perhaps most importantly, are we telling each generation the stories of God's deliverance and power and incredible grace?

Sitting down to a meal of lamb and arugula and flatbread just made the history come to life. God knows the ways we learn best, and how amazing is it that He gives us tangible symbols? Sharing the Passover meal as a family simply created a venue to talk about God's great works, and it engaged our five senses, which are incredible triggers of memory. The whole experience was simple enough for a child to understand. At the table, we read from Exodus and then from the gospels. The Lamb had to die so that God's people could live. It is bitter and rich and when God says go, you don't hesitate. You run to your freedom.

God is a great Teacher. He doesn't just talk at us. In His grace, He invites us to learn with all our senses. To taste the bitterness of sin and slavery. To hear the dry snap of the cracker eaten in haste. To smell the roasted herbs and meat, satisfying and rich fuel for a long journey. And perhaps what I love best is that He wants us to learn and re-learn with our families. He wants our kids involved. He can't wait for them to taste and hear and smell and wonder about His great works too.

All in all, our night was awesome. I think we may be remembering Passover in this way every year. And next year, I may even find some people to invite.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Teacher Appreciation Giveaway with Katygirl

This girl, Katy. You know her? She is an awesome mommy to her two littles. One thing I admire about her is that she doesn't try to gloss over this job of motherhood. She'll admit that the days are sometimes really hard, that she is sometimes at a total loss over what to do. And yet, she chooses joy. All kinds of joy. It's evident in her everyday life, in her beautiful smile, in the demeanor of her kids, and it is splashed all over her work at Katygirl Designs.

Katy is an encourager, too, and when I saw her latest Teacher Appreciation pack, I immediately wanted to share it with you. Did you realize Teacher Appreciation week is the first full week in May? Right around the corner! I wrote about how important I feel it is to be regularly building up our kids' teachers in my Back to School series, here. And I wonder if this is the time of year when teaching begins to drag slowly on, as if summer will never come. I mean, I had my 3rd grader home sick for a few days and suddenly had a renewed compassion for his teacher and her constant struggle managing his talking in class. The child. Does. Not. Stop. Talking.

Now imagine that struggle times 26 kids with 26 other issues that are really beautiful aspects of childhood, but in April, they amount to a lot of thorns in that teacher's side. I'm just saying. It is a job I'm not sure I could do. Well, wait, I am pretty sure I couldn't.

I'm betting your child's teacher could use some encouragement right about now. A personal note of thanks and this pack from Katy would do the trick.

It includes:

1 5x7 "Change the World" print (a Teacher Appreciation week exclusive design)
4 personalized notecards with your teacher's name
1 $5 giftcard to Starbucks

This pack is valued at $24, and the print will only be available through Teacher Appreciation week, which is May 5th-9th. The set is also available for sale in Katy's etsy shop.

To enter to win all these things to encourage and uplift a teacher in your life, please do one or more of the following and leave a comment for each:

Follow Unfolding Blog and tell me how - 1 entry
Follow my new page Unfolding Blog on Facebook - 1 entry
Follow Katy's Blog - 1 entry
Follow me on Instagram @leslie_padgett - 1 entry
Follow Katy on Instagram @katykristin - 1 entry
Share this giveaway on Facebook or IG - 5 entries

I will choose a winner on Saturday at noon so it's kind of a quick giveaway!

And if you don't win, why not write a note of thanks and encouragement to those teachers anyway? I bet it would put a little wind in his or her sails.

If you want to check out Katy's other amazing prints and stationary goods, click here.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Lessons from Hope Spoken: 13 things

It's been two weeks since Hope Spoken and on social media, it's clear the messages all of us took away are still percolating in hearts. I was just looking through my notes from the weekend. Not notes I took during the weekend, but ones I scribbled down in an attempt to catch some of the overflow of my brimming heart on the plane home Sunday night.

In the terminal, I felt the swelling of words and feelings about the weekend but my laptop was tucked safely in my checked luggage and I had no journal or notepad. I tried to purchase some form of paper in three gifts shops and when that failed, I asked one cashier if she had a printer from which I could have a couple sheets. No printer either. But a kind man with a briefcase, waiting to pay for a bag of chips, overheard my request and offered to tear a few pages of the yellow lined variety out of his Steno pad for me.

I started hastily spilling out my thoughts as soon as I was seated on the plane. It was a late flight, one of the hazards of living in a state to where few people want to fly, and when the cabin lights were shut off, my seat neighbor, an executive from the U.K. who related his decade long dream to ski in Montana, pressed the button on the ceiling to turn my light on for me.

I scribbled and scribbled until my British friend raised his eyebrows and made a comment on how unusual it was to see someone writing with a pen and paper these days. It's exactly why my handwriting is so messy; I'm horribly out of practice. Writing with a pen and paper for me feels like trying to fill a gas tank with an eyedropper. But my choices were to write, or risk losing much of the memories and emotions from the weekend.

And since it's the 13th (or was last night when I wrote this), I thought I'd share 13 observations collected from those notes that sort of sum up the weekend in my memory.

1. There is a difference between deeply admiring people with faith and actually having it yourself. I don't just want to spectate a life of faith in others. I want to learn from them and grow in faith myself. 

2. There is always someone from whom you can learn, and always someone you are able to teach. God often gives us roles to be a teacher and a student at the same time. I think that's cool.

3. Having close friends with whom you can share your faith (living in community) is not an optional part of the Christian life, and I think we sometimes treat it that way. The functions and benefits of Godly friendship are countless and crucial and so worth the investment. So many times, I've found that God chooses to speak first through those individuals.  

4. Acidy, caffeinated drinks are a bad choice before public speaking. Unless you want to feel even more nauseous and jittery than you already do.

5. Just because you're not a speaker doesn't mean God won't call you to speak.

6. Just because you're not a speaker doesn't mean God can't or won't powerfully use your story when you speak it. The power of it, once you speak it, is relative to and assigned by Him, not you.

7. In order to share your story, you need to understand first that you have one.

8. After you understand you have one, you need to re-understand that actually, it's God's story, not yours.

9. Third, sharing your story requires discerning of when to share it and to whom. It is not meant for all times and for all people, but it is absolutely needed for some time and for someone.

10. Leading/shepherding a small group of women was not as hard as I expected. I suspect love is the only fuel needed.

11. Shame and condemnation from the enemy is a huge and very real problem among women, one that we don't like to talk about. I wrote lots about that in my last post.

12. People behind blogs and social media accounts are people in need of compassion and grace. They (we) are full of troubles, full of need, full of life, struggle, sin, shame, confusion, passion, worship, sincerity, friendship, love, generosity, brokenness, bravery, and absolute beauty.

13. It would have been a disaster for me if God had not shown up and put His words in my mouth and His spirit in my heart both behind that podium and the rest of the weekend.

I prayed and prayed for #13 to take place, for God to show up for me and speak through me at Hope Spoken. I knew a lot of other people who were praying the same. God answered those prayers with a resounding Yes. He said, "I'm not going to leave you hanging when you step behind that podium. I will not leave your side."

I wonder how my every day would be different if I depended on Him that much for my daily life. If I never once slipped into the "I got this," mode. If I never once presumed I knew what to say already.

All these lessons, all these truths that rose to the surface over the course of that weekend are things I want to hold close. Particularly #13. Because I know what a disaster day feels like. I know I can become one in 5 seconds if I am not rooted and grounded, and understanding how utterly dependent on God I am. Every hour I need Him.

I'm looking forward to this holy week of resting in His promises; He has forgiven my disasters, broken the chains of my shame, and redeemed my seasons of faithlessness . And I will be celebrating that those acts came at very high cost.

Mercifully, one I didn't have to pay.  


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Lessons from Hope Spoken: We all hide

There has never been a single human alive who has not tried to hide. 

Adam and Eve were first. Their enemy lied to them and led them into sin. And as he planned from the start, he seized the moment they fell, quickly pounded them with shame, and pushed them out of the open spaces in the garden they had enjoyed with God and back into the darkness of the bushes. They felt exposed and ashamed. Their relationship with the Holy One suffered it's first break.

At Hope Spoken a couple weekends ago, I was reminded of this: we all try to hide. We all feel bludgeoned by shame and regress into hiding so that others won't see.

But this miraculous thing happened within our small group time. Between Friday night and Sunday morning, our circle of 10 strangers moved together into the open spaces to enjoy God. It was as if we held hands (though we never actually did) and walked into the light as one, praying, sharing, and breathing in grace all around. It takes my breath away to think about the work God did.

Real healing and trust and faith grew there, in that circle. I witnessed it. Women reminded women that they were loved and forgiven and accepted and beautiful. Real and crippling fears began to crack and crumble a bit. Lies began to be chopped down by the ax of Christ-centered fellowship. And one person's courage encouraged the next to muster the same. Oh, how I underestimate the power of Jesus working in a small group of His people, even if all have only a mustard seed of faith to offer. Friends, it's no small thing.

As I reflect now on that sacred time, I can think about certain people who held back for a while, not ready to come out. Most people would have thought, "Oh that person is just shy, or not comfortable sharing with a group." But I wonder now, were they just shy, or were they bound up with lies? Were they so bludgeoned by shame that their faith-legs couldn't walk them into the light of the open spaces? Were they possibly even living in this state of defeat all the time?

I've been in those bushes before. You have too. We both know what it feels like and looks like to be defeated and distant from God and the truth. We both know how sin ravages our hearts and hurls rocks into the windows of our souls, breaking relationships, pushing us into hiding, leaving us feeling exposed.

The worst part is the lies. They don't ever seem to relent, when we hang out in the bushes. I had two women tell me that they had severely accusatory "thoughts" before signing up for Hope Spoken. They heard these kinds of things:

You don't deserve to go to that.
What do YOU have to offer anyone?
Who do you think you are?

Why would you want to do something so stupid?
No one will understand you.

And then others shared these kinds of things:

You can't actually tell anyone that.
You are a lost cause.
You such a hypocrite.
You don't deserve forgiveness. 
It's just too much.
And you call yourself a Christian? You even serve at church?
What a fake.

Relentless. Lies. It angered me with a righteous anger when I heard these things, firstly because I knew God's girls - the daughters of the King of Kings - were being assaulted. I wonder how many women chose NOT to push through the lies; how many women never signed up and stayed home? And secondly, I realized that the enemy lies to us ALL. It is not just a select few who really screw up. It is every single one of us, because we are all human. We all make mistakes, and we are all threatening to the cause of the enemy. He will do whatever he can to keep us in the dark, away from God and others. Whatever he can.

I'm not just sharing this in analysis of Hope Spoken. I'm hoping you can internalize this for yourself as well. We are all being lied to, we are all being shamed into the dark corners, away from God, away from others. And everyone thinks she is the only one.

Bringing all that out into the open spaces, the light of truth, is the first step in breaking the power of lies over us. I've lived this supernatural equation more than once. Choose one friend. Join a small group through your church. Confide in your husband. Pick an open space where you know truth and safety will find you. And speak it.

The women in my small group were so exceptionally brave. I'm in awe of their courage. And friends, breaking the power of shame and lies in our life takes courage. And then it takes Jesus. He does all the rest. We simply have to trust Him to cover us with His blood, His forgiveness, His grace, and His perfect robe of righteousness as we bolt out of the bushes and into the open spaces where He stands waiting.

And oh, let's be praying for our sisters, in the name of Jesus, that the mouths of the liars would be stopped, and that the enemy would be conquered in the lives of God's daughters, one day at a time.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12 (read this whole passage, it's so good)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light
Ephesians 5:8

(a great list of 25 more verses on light and darkness can be found here.)


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Streamlining your social media

I can't tell you how many times I've heard lately, "Oh, I don't read blogs anymore." Half the times I've heard it, it's come out of my own mouth. Somehow I just got out of the habit. I stopped connecting and participating in the blog community. Oh wait, I think it was because we moved. Most things stopped around that time and I'm slowly recovering the things I enjoy doing in my free time. One of those is certainly writing. And reading. Wait that's two things.

Tonight I determined to start reading blogs again. And in order to make it more accessible, more efficient, and FAR less overwhelming, I streamlined. I made sure I was following only blogs I know and love. I have no idea how my reading list got so out of hand, but I'm sure half of the people I was following aren't even blogging regularly anymore. Many I didn't even recognize. I don't think I've even looked at the list in two years.

Realistically, I am going to try to keep my reading list in the double digits. Below 50 is even better. Triple digits is WAY too high to keep track of and stay engaged on the blogs I really enjoy.

I already do this with my Instagram account (though my max number is higher). Every so often, I realize I've notched up and up and up in the number of those I'm "following." Then it gets unmanageable and I start to notice I'm missing half the posts by my friends and family back in California because I have way too many feeds getting in the way. Not that those other people aren't posting great stuff too. Of course they are! Great shops. Great quotes. Great everything. But I still can't have "great" cluttering out the people I actually love, the people whose children and hearts and lives I care about.

And none of this streamlining business is personal. I wish I could read and follow every great writer and IGer and Facebooker in the land. I truly know that I could learn from every single one of them. But in order to keep my life in balance, I need to limit my social media time. And if I want to write and read and Instagram, then I need to streamline that process. And streamlining involves (gulp) unfollowing until I have a manageable system, until I feel like I can still interact on a personal, real level.

Here's the core of the problem, in my opinion. When we spread ourselves too thin on social media, our interactions get increasingly thin too. We hurry through deeply meaningful posts by real people, often hurting people. Those real people are looking for community and real connection too, just like I am. And I have to ask myself, "At what point (in terms of numbers of blogs/accounts/FB friends I follow) does my connection to these real live humans get reduced to surface contact? Quick comments like, "Wow! Awesome," to huge, life changing announcements. Or a hastily typed, "Praying for you! XO" while at a stoplight, when you read that a friend is really struggling with chronic health problems. I'm not saying I need to type a paragraph-length comment to be authentic. But I simply cannot be authentic with 500 people. That's being spread too thin.

I'm speaking to myself, here, too. I've totally done that. I've not cared enough about serious business going on in people's lives because my thumb just keeps scrolling through the sea of images and words. But often I get this vibe, this premonition that social media is dangerous and doing something to us. It threatens to hold us at arm's length from the real humans with whom we are interacting.

I try to guard my life from superficiality in all its forms. So I cut and streamline and unfollow, if I need. And it is not because I'm insensitive. It's exactly the opposite. I can't be friends with every cool person. And at some point, too many "friends" makes me a bad one to all of them.

Try this:
Go to your "follow" list, one social media platform at a time.
In your head pick a reasonable number of "friends."
Cut down your list until you get there. 
Then go through the entire list one more time and cut again. As much as you can.
Repeat every month or two.

If I get cut from something of yours, I TOTALLY get it. I won't be bummed. I will understand that you need to be responsible with your time, your social media, and your limited relational capacity.

Yep, that's where the truth comes in. We are limited. We are called to relationship, but we are limited. I think all of us in the blog world and on social media could improve at being more to fewer.

Don't you agree?


Saturday, April 05, 2014

The time I cried in Starbucks

Yesterday, in one of those short windows of time where you can't do anything productive so you take the kids to Starbucks to kill time, I had a parenting moment. The kind that makes you know that you know that this is all worth it, the kind where in the midst of the daily grind, your purpose as a mom gets recalibrated and your eyes get opened to all sorts of things you'd been missing.

My daughter, who was drinking chocolate milk, and who is 11, and who this year began the dreaded zone of life called Middle School, and who almost never opens up, said the following:

daughter: Mom, there is this one girl in my math class that NObody likes. Actually people are sort of afraid of her. And she did a crazy thing which was shave off her eyebrows. (She's furrowing her brow, and I know she's asking questions by these statements, trying to make sense of this.)

me: Do you think people are afraid of her because she's different?

daughter: Yeah...and she's like, not that nice either. She can be rude.

me: Let's think of reasons why she might be so different and have that kind of attitude.

daughter: Because she isn't very loved by her parents? (I think, bingo. She gets that kids aren't this way for no reason.)

me: Yep, that could be one reason. Everybody needs to be loved and wants to be loved. That's why most people your age are trying SO HARD to be the same as everyone else. To fit in. She doesn't feel the same, she knows she doesn't fit in, and so she wants to make sure everyone knows she is different. Do kids talk about her a lot?

daughter: Yeah! (she's surprised I know this)

me: This happens in all ages, grown up girls too. It's because girls really struggle with comparing themselves with others and feeling confident in who God made them to be. It's hard when other girls gossip about kids who are different.

daughter: Yeah! And I feel weird about that...I mean, I want to do something, but I don't know what.

son, chiming in: Well do you think if you tried to be nice to her, your other friends would stop liking you?

daughter: Yeah...I'm pretty sure they would.

me: (saying nothing, because they haven't yet noticed I'm beginning to be overcome with emotion.)

And this is when I laughed at myself, because I was crying in Starbucks. Because my girl who doesn't say much and often would choose to read a book alone than be in a crowd of people, sees that different girl who shaved off her eyebrows in 6th grade. Really sees her, and feels uncomfortable by the gossip. I was in awe of her little 11-year old heart, and I knew it has been formed by God. I knew I could take no credit for this.

The kids started to look at me like I was crazy, by the way, crying in Starbucks. And so I had to go into this whole explanation. I blubbered out, "I am just so proud of you."

So many thoughts were going on in my head, and I didn't share all of them. I couldn't keep myself collected, for instance, if I unfurled my deep awareness that I know I'm NOT that girl, the one who sees the different girl. I am the one who feels awkward and afraid of extreme difference and doesn't know what to say. I'm ashamed of that. And I'm the one who, in my flesh and my ignorance, wants my daughter to be more a part of the crowd, to bond with the general populace, to engage in meaningless chit chat over the lunch table like a typical tween. But she doesn't. And I worry that she'll be standing there alone when the beehive of girls decides to buzz on to the next activity. I'm ashamed of that too, that wanting her to be different and...safer. 

And so all I could sniffle out was, "I am just so proud of you. God has given you this amazing gift of compassion! That is so rare, especially at your age. Most people are afraid of those who are different. But it is a special gift to be able to see those who are different and long to show them love! You are seeing her like Jesus does." Sniff sniff.

And then I told them about this memory.

When my daughter first went to 2-morning a week preschool, when she was 3 years old, I wanted her to connect with the other girls in class. It was her first exposure to regular socialization, after all. I wanted her to "succeed" at it. One day at drop off, I brought her a bit early. In the class, there was a large box of dress-up things to which all the other girls flocked every morning to be the first one to pull the cheap Cinderella polyester over her head. I prodded my girl to join in; after all, she loved dressing up at home. But she would not go join in. She stood still. Alone. Staring. I felt increasingly uncomfortable,  projecting that onto my 3 year old, so I prodded more, my anxiety rising that she wouldn't be a part of the princess crowd.

But little did I know she was taking everything in. Most of the class was little girls, currently fighting over the plastic click-clack shoes, but my daughter was seeing the one blond haired boy, off to the side looking unsure and afraid. After a time, she walked straight to the dress up box, grabbed a cowboy hat, walked over to the boy, and extended it to him without saying a word.

I will never forget that. No one saw that boy but she. No one felt inclined to include him or take notice of him. While all the other girls were living examples of the survival of the fittest concept, my girl showed mercy to the one on the outskirts. And still, to this day, I can hardly wrap my mind around her actions because I am not that girl. She is. And seeing it again, yesterday, made me weep.

Because I'm not that girl, and I don't have her gift, I couldn't offer much advice on how to reach out to the eyebrow-less girl in math class. But I could offer her the Wonderful Counselor. I said:

me: Ya know, God knows whether or not you should reach out to her. I don't know if you are supposed to, but it seems He's put the desire and a lot of compassion in your heart for her. So if I were you, I'd pray and ask Him for an opportunity to talk to her if He wants you to. And if He doesn't want to use you in that way, maybe that chance will never come up. But I DO know this. You can't base your choice on what your other friends may think of you. If they did stop being your friend, then you don't want that kind of friend. And there is a possibility that they may even learn from you. What if your other friends thought, "Wow. I wish I was brave like that." What if they admire you for it, and what if they feel encouraged to be more loving to others too? At least your Christian friends will hopefully understand.

Hopefully. Why is this so hard? This loving those on the outskirts? Why does it involve so much fear and strategizing? The only answer I can come up with is sin. We are all broken and can barely love the lovable well, much less those who are hard to love. As I've said, this stuff is hard for me, a grown up. I can't imagine how hard loving the unlovable is for the typical, crazy-insecure, still-developing middle schooler. But Jesus makes all things possible, and I truly believe that. Seriously, WHAT would we do without Him? He raises up His people to see the injured ones on the outskirts, to love them and embrace them like He does. My daughter may be called to be His hands and feet to the girl in math class. That is no small deal.

I hope this story isn't over. I hope there will be a Part 2. But if not, the conversation between my kids and I was an epic one. Perhaps the most valuable take away is that I learned more about my daughter's heart, her gift of seeing the unseen. I am aware that God in His grace is humbling me, weaning me off of wishing she'd be more engaged with the princess crowd. God in His grace is reminding me I have a lot to learn from my kids. And God in His grace is reminding me that my kids are His. He has knit them together. He has gifted them for purposes I cannot fathom. That goes for the Cinderellas, the odd girls in math class, and everyone in between.

Would I trade that divine handiwork knit into my girl just so she might be a look-alike with some other type of kid, might have more friends, or be more accepted?

Never in a million years. God knows what He's doing in my kids' lives. And I hope, desperately, that as a mother, I don't stand in His way.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Lessons from Hope Spoken: I don't have enough

Before Hope Spoken last weekend, I had never read the blog Flower Patch Farmgirl. Shannan Martin writes over there. I had always heard of her 'around town'; I knew her blog was popular and I guessed she was a lovely person, as are so many bloggers in the community. But since I'd probably be unable to cover all the good blogs in my lifetime, Shannan's was one I simply never got around to reading. So when I personally met her last Friday morning at Casey's house for the speaker luncheon, I was intrigued by her and wanted to know more.

When I hear "flower patch" and "farm girl," I imagine a girl who lives on a farm and skips down dirt roads with daisies in her hair, carrying a basket of berries. But despite her love for gingham, Shannan was so different from the Dorothy in Kansas character I expected. First of all, she lives in the city. She is quite tall and poised, with a lower-pitched voice like mine and a calm sincerity when she asks you questions. She's intelligent, and the type of woman you know is not just a bright person, but who is layered with fortitude of character. She's worked in politics and has a passion for loving the unloved in society. But she is also so humble that she'll plainly tell you her life has been a work wrought by God through years of struggle.

I attended her break-out session and she spoke of daring love, costly love, and allowing God to make you small. Trading your own sense of importance for His. Downsizing not only in material goods, but in position as well.

And in one of the most profound moments of the weekend for me, she redefined the story of Jesus feeding the 4,000. She brought up something that I've never considered, though I am so familiar with the story it threatens to feel stale. Jesus had a problem: 4,000 men (if you accounted for women and children, the number might be as high as 10,000) had been listening to Him preach for three days. They were very hungry and more than likely, He surmises, couldn't make the long walk home without fainting. You know the rest. Jesus takes a few loaves from the disciples and miraculously multiplies the small amount of food they have in order to generously feed the entire crowd with baskets to spare.

But God spoke to me when Shannan pointed this out: Jesus could have turned all the stones into bread to feed the people. He could have rained bread down from heaven. He could have done whatever sort of miracle He wanted to feed the people. But instead, He chose to ask the disciples, "How much do you have?"

I realize in the past I've assumed it was as if Jesus was at a loss in this scene. Like, He had to ask these guys for help.  I forget that He is Lord Almighty. I start to think Jesus is just like me, trying to problem-solve by phoning a friend. But no. He knows what He is doing; He is not caught off guard by the deficits. And He is making a choice to involve us in His miracles. He knows the disciples don't have enough, but He wants their offering anyway. He will make it enough, but they have to offer first.

Friends, this is a profound lesson. Jesus and I often sit staring together at a problem. Let's say it's a problem in a friendship or with my husband or in our finances. Jesus could rain down bread. Of course He could. And sometimes, He does.

But much more often, He turns to me and says, "How much do you have?" I say, "Well, that's obvious, Jesus. I don't have enough for this. Not even close." He knows I don't have enough. He knows I may look at him with raised eyebrows. He knows that my heart sustains seeds of doubt. The question is whether or not I will take my chunk of bread, my measly offering worth next to nothing, and hand it to Him anyway.

The question is whether or not I have faith that He will make it enough.

I believed Him this past weekend. I spoke, and offered Jesus my measly chunk of bread by sharing my story in a break-out session. I'm certain He multiplied its value and spread it around and made it enough. But I question myself in parenting and in relationships and in so many other areas. I often question whether I have something to offer Jesus at all.

Friends, it's such good news. He knows you don't have much to offer. And that's the point. If you could feed 10,000 people yourself, you wouldn't need a Savior and He wouldn't get the glory. So He's given you a measly chunk of something that seems to be worth next to nothing. Yes, you need more. It's laughable how much more you need to solve the problems around you. But you do have something to offer. And He's asking you for it.


{to read the Bible story yourself, it is recorded twice, both in Mark 8:1-9 and Matthew 15:32-39.}